The dreadful calamity of the Grenfell Tower fire has acted as a catalyst to the discussion of the benefits, privileges and affluence of the wealthy against the disadvantages and low quality of living amongst the working class.
Reactions to the fire have escalated from calling it a mere tragedy to now a dispute about the possible negligence of officials. Judging it as case of manslaughter, or even murder has not been ruled out.
Manslaughter aside though, there is the argument that the victims were ‘murdered by austerity’.
‘The decision to close fire stations and to cut 10,000 firefighters and then to freeze their pay for over a decade, contributed to those deaths inevitably; and they were political decisions’, says John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington. He continued: ‘Those families, those individuals — 79 so far and there will be more — were murdered by political decisions’.
Such a statement touches upon the contentious subject of the worth of the poor versus the rich. The proximity of the rich and poor in Kensington where the fire took place, arguably acts as an example of how the traditionally ‘bourgeoisie’ class in a capitalist society have access to better resources, living standards and are treated with respect, being the ‘superiors’. This is most clearly seen in the living standards of the rich in places such as Chelsea and Kensington, not far from Grenfell, a state described by Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘tale of two cities’, in reference to Charles Dickens’ book of the same name.
The failure of cladding and insulation found at Grenfell Tower during safety tests, as well as further problems discovered in 60 other high-rise buildings amongst 25 local authorities following the fire, has caused uproar from the public.
Grenfell held no sprinkler systems or safety procedures for evacuation in the event of a fire. The government’s reluctance to spend the appropriate money for the safety of the residents is therefore seen as a cause of their deaths, making them liable for murder.
In an individualistic and capitalist society, it would not be in the government’s interest to spend the necessary money in protecting the lives of residents in Grenfell and in other tower blocks like it. This acts as a component in the argument that the Grenfell Tower disaster is an example of corporate murder, a practice which dates back to the Victorian era with younger children being mutilated and killed by machines in workhouses — something that Friedrich Engels called ‘social murder’. He famously wrote of the working class:
‘When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual‘.
Some however may argue that the dispute of inequality in England in regards to Grenfell is irrational and plainly irrelevant. An article written by Ross Clark and published in the Spectator, ‘Trying to turn Grenfell Tower into a morality tale about the rich and poor stinks’, states that: ‘Residents of Grenfell Tower have died not because they are poor but because the renovations were wrong-headed. Too much was spent on the aesthetic appearance of the block, inside and out, and tragically too little thought was put into fire safety. That is the real scandal’.
The identified cause as to why the fire managed to spread so easily was down to poor renovations. However, the consistent failure of safety tests on tower blocks similar to Grenfell demonstrates the lack of concern in cutting corners when renovating large buildings. The predominant demographic of working-class residents in these buildings cannot be ignored. It acts as a profound element in this topic, suggesting the lack of regard for those living in poorer conditions.
Residents of the Grenfell Tower fire, those who survived as well as those who perished, were victims of a capitalist society where one is identified by how much they earn. This is perhaps one of the many reasons for the subsequent protests against the government, and why people from the Grenfell community and others have pulled together to help the victims.
We are all, possibly, victims of the oppression of a capitalist society in which according to Karl Marx the bourgeoisie and aristocrats reign, while the proletarians suffer. This awful tragedy has shed light into the inequality that hides in plain sight. The likely cause of which are the working class having accepted their position in society, as cogs in a wheel, to ever serve the rich.
We are under an illusion that we work for our own individual benefit. The fact is, we are dispensable, replaceable and unprotected in a society where money is of more value than our lives.